Scotland: Whisky & Distilleries
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distillery is on the shore of Lochindaal, on the road to Port Charlotte.
It was built in 1881 by the Harvey brothers: William, Robert and
John Gourlay. Their father, William Harvey was the owner of the
once famous Glasgow distilleries Dundashill and Yoker and bequeathed
the money to his sons expressly to build a distillery on Islay.
In 1886, the society took the name of Bruichladdich Distillery Co and all the shares were owned by the Harfey family.
Following the death of the manager and family shareholder Kenneth Harvey during the big recession of 1929 the distillery to close its doors until the Second World War when the distillery was sold to Associated Scottish Distillers ltd, owned by National Distillers in the United States in 1938. Other distilleries were bought by the same group in the same period: Ben Nevis, Benromach and Fettercairn.
The distillery was sold in 1952 to Ross & Coulter. The latter society was bought by A.B Grant in 1960. The malting floors were closed in 1961 in common with other Islay distilleries when the large maltings at Port Ellen was constructed.. Invergordon Distillers took the distillery over in 1968. Invergordon became later part of Whyte & MacKay in 1993, itself part of the american group JBB Greater Europe (Jim Beam Brands) which in turn was owned by the US giant Fortune Brands (2006: Beam Global Spirits & Wine ) who mothballed the distillery in 1994
In december 2000 a group of private investors, led by Mark Reynier of Murray McDavid, a famous independent Scottish whisky trader, bought the distillery..
It is managed since then by Jim Mac Ewan, former director of the Bowmore distillery, and an emblematic character of the Isle.of Islay and winner of Distiller of the Year for an unprecedented three times.
Since 2002, three single malts are produced at the distillery: Bruichladdich of course, but also a peaty malt, called Port Charlotte at 40 PPM and the earth shattering Octomore - the world's heaviest peaty whisky at an astounding 80.5 PPM. From May 2003 Bruichladdich is bottled at the distillery -the only Islay whisky that is distilled, matured and bottled on the Island. All Bruichladdich is bottled un chill filtered, caramel free and at 46%. Each bottling is a cuvée created by Master Distiller Jim McEwan. From 2004 Bruichladdich will experiment a 100% organic malt, produced from organic grown barley.
All the whisky production is now retained for the distillery's own use as Bruichladdich single malt.
The independent bottler, Murray McDavid.is a wholly owned subsidiary of Bruichladdich Distillery Company Ltd.
The distillery has been purchased by Rémy Cointreau on July 23, 2012
For further information, please see the web site of the Bruichladdich distillery. I am very grateful to the distillery for having validated the content of this page.
The current owners of the distillery distinguish themselves from most of the other distillery owners by a special philosophy, somewhere between a romantic dream and a very sophisticated business plan, based on tradition and quality of the product.
The love story between Mark Reynier and Bruichladdich is not recent, even if the purchasing of the distillery took place only recently.
The layout of the distillery buildings was also unique for the time, as the distillery is build around a square courtyard. The reason is for easier fire prevention which remains a great danger for each distillery.
The philosophy of the new owners is that one should make whisky as it always has been done, before the great financial interests ruled the whole whisky industry, and definitely changed the rules of producing Uisge Beatha.
When Diageo build the "Port Ellen Maltings", as a condition to build
this malting plant an agreement was been signed with all the distilleries of
the Island, obliging them to cease malting ‘in house’ and to buy
a quantity of malt at the maltings.
Bruichladdich are also signees of this agreement, and buy the malt destined for Port Charlotte Spirit from the maltings. However, Bruichladdich's specifications are specific, and the Port Ellen Maltings is not able to satisfy its requirements, one of their conditions being that all the barley has to be Scottish. This requirement is rather specific, most of the other distilleries do not really care about the origin of the barley, and use barley from England or South Africa.
That is the reason why Bruichladdich buys the major party of its malt at a malting near Inverness, which is able to satisfy the requirements.
Waste from the mashtuns, essentially barley husks known as ‘draff’ is used to produce cattle feed, just like all other distilleries. According to Mark Reynier, a farmer near Bruichladdich says his cattle prefer the draff from Bruichladdich. Perhaps the difference is in the making process, the Victorian machinery leaving more organic parts in the brewing residues as opposed to the computerised neighbouring distilleries.
Nearly all the installations currently in use are original from 1881, apart from 6 new grain receivers that were added in the 1960's. At the moment, the distillery does not produce it's own malt, but it still has 4 malting floors. The owners have the intention of resuming malting production in 2005/6.
In 2004 the first harvest of Islay grown barley grown at near-by at Kintraw farm on Lochindaal will be distilled in the Autumn.
The malt is first cleaned in an antique machine (original) a kind of centrifuge called a ‘dresser’, in order to protect the precision malt mill from damage from stones, nails, etc..
Then, the malt is ground in the malt mill, and the resulting ‘grist’ is mixed with hot water piped directly from the loch in the hills behind the distillery in order to extract the sugars from the malted barley; the sweet water or ‘wort’ is cooled down via a heat exchanger, and filled in to large wood vats called Wash backs.
Thanks to the action of the yeast which are added at this stage of the process, the alcoholic fermentation lasts 60 – 7- hours depending on the variety, provenance, and season of the barley; a ‘beer’ or ‘wash’ is obtained at 6 – 7 % alcohol. 60% of the taste of the spirit is obtained at this stage – hence the importance of top quality raw ingredients of barley, water and yeast.
The two step distillation process at Bruichladdich is deliberately very slow – a trickle distillation - constantly watched by the still man who carries a great responsibility in the quality of the final product. As well as manually riding the wave of distillation, his job is to determine carefully the exact moment to separate the sought after ‘middle cut’ from the undesirable ‘feints’ (tails) and the ‘foreshots’ (heads). The unusually tall necked stills produce a particularly refined, floral spirit. Each distillation is different, depending on attributes obtained at fermentation.
During the second distillation the ‘Middle Cut’ is obtained when the spirit is between 68% and 72% alcohol, an average of 70%, which is 5% higher than at most other distilleries.
There are three different spirits made using different levels of peating: Bruichladdich (8ppm), Port Charlotte (40ppm), and the most heavily peaty whisky in the world – Octomore at (80.5ppm).
The ageing occurs in mainly Bourbon casks, as they do not overly influence the final taste of a sophisticated whisky such as Bruichladdich where the quality and taste of the spirit is essential. It is felt that the current trend of ageing in casks having contained strong-flavoured alcohols (such as sherry or port) can sometimes be used to hide some distillation faults caused by overly rapid distillation, poor fermentation and general economic pressures on production. All casks are matured beside the Atlantic Ocean thus obtaining that special briny, salty, seaside characteristic so often missing in spirits that are matured far away in land, in Central Scotland, such as those distilleries owned by the corporate giants of Diageo, Allied etc.
On the one hand, the distillery is completely traditional (to run the whole process, 39 people are necessary - this quite a lot compared to an automated distillery like Caol Ila, where the whole process runs with just 3 of them...), and on the other hand it uses the state of the art techniques for marketing. Web cams, on-line tastings are unique at the moment in the whisky world.
Mark Reynier, a third generation wine merchant, did not buy the distillery at random. He won a bottle of thirty year old Bruichladdich when he was about 22 when he first discovered the elegance of this malt, which he could compare to some of the great wines he tastes. He tried once to visit it, but unfortunately was turned away by the guard. This just drove his motivation So he decided to try and buy the distillery.. He began to write to the owners suggesting the purchase of the plant, but was politely refused. This process was repeaty annually for 10 years
The distillery was owned by Invergordon, who were purchased by Whyte & Mackay, but they systematically refused to sell Bruichladdich to Mark Reynier. When Whyte & Mackay became part of the American concern Jim Beam Brands he finally was allowed to buy it in December 2000.
Amongst the new owners of Bruichladdich is Jim McEwan the mythic character of distillation on Islay who celebrated 40 years in whisky industry in 2003 after starting at the age of 15 as a cooper. He was been master distiller of Bowmore before joining Bruichladdich. The career he made since than can only be explained by his competence and enthusiasm, which is part of the success of the distillery.
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